But most of all, read it because it is one of the very few books written by an Indian in English that does not subject its reader to catatonically uninvolving insights into the author’s mind. Pundits From Pakistan skips navel-gazing for a description of the remarkable Indo-Pak series of 2004. Bhattacharya’s analysis—among the best in Indian sports writing, and by some distance the most entertaining—is the core of the book.
Yet it’s also the first Pakistan travelogue for the 21st century Indian. As a Gujarati/Bengali from Bombay, he seems to see Pakistan objectively in a way that is hard for north Indians hung up on the agonies of Partition and the beguiling myth of Indo-Pak brotherhood. His Pakistan bonds are forged over similarities like a taste for paya, or knowing the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s Scarlet Begonias, not Punjabiyat.
He could have simply referenced French thinker Guy Debord, whose germinal ideas on the society of spectacle suggest why subcontinental cricket is more carnival than organised sport, or invoked semiotician Jean Baudrillard’s cultural fetishism and its impact on personal identity, so critical to grasping cricket’s hold on India. And a handful of earnest social science students would have scratched appreciatively at their beards, and that would have been that.
Instead we got lucky. A curious young Bombayite with passion for cricket chose to write all this but disguise it as a cracking good account of an extraordinary tour of a weird and wonderful country. Phew.